Due to projected shortfalls in sales tax revenue, the City of Hattiesburg has completed a reduction in force that affects 27 vacant positions and 39 filled positions.
Of the 39 positions, 22 positions were classified as full-time while six were part-time. One position included a salary reduction, and 10 of the 39 positions were full-time but “were part of an opportunity to move employees to positions not dependent on the general fund or into essential public safety/code positions,” according to a Friday evening email from Samantha McCain, chief communications officer.
The email added that the total cost savings from these measures for fiscal year 2020 is $952,519 and $2,586,710 for fiscal year 2021.
“A reduction in force provides for the city to be able to cover the sales tax shortfall for both March and April, and the savings for FY 2021 will significantly reduce the structural deficit in the General Fund,” said the release. “Dependent on how quickly the local economy recovers from COVID-19, additional cost-cutting measures will likely be necessary.”
City administrators looked at two additional cost-saving measures prior to deciding on a reduction in force, according to the email. One option – supported by Councilwoman Deborah Delgado in an open letter to the city and to city employees earlier this week – included a 15 percent reduction in salaries across all city positions. The second option “looked at reducing work schedules to 30 hours per week (excluding sworn public safety personnel.)”
Those options will again be considered if further spending reductions are needed, said the release.
“The city’s general fund is heavily dependent on the tax dollars generated from retail sales, and March numbers indicate a downturn (approximately 15%) for when the parts of the economy were shut down for less than half the month. That shortfall is anticipated to double for April and possibly May,” said the release.
According to a document released by city officials, two full-time positions in the mayor’s office, including one vacant position, were eliminated along with a part-time position that was filled.
Two full-time positions in the municipal court were affected, along with one part-time filled position. One of the court positions, a division manager role, had a salary cut while the other two were eliminated.
Two full-time positions in the municipal clerk’s office were eliminated, although only one was filled, and one full-time filled position was eliminated in the accounting office.
In urban development, five full-time positions were eliminated; three of the positions were vacant. In the police department, six full-time positions were eliminated, although one of the positions was vacant, and four part-time filled positions were eliminated.
In public works, 24 full-time positions were eliminated; 13 of the positions were eliminated. Three part-time vacant positions were eliminated.
In parks and recreation, 10 full-time filled positions were eliminated, and five part-time vacant positions were eliminated.
The PineBelt NEWS requested the names of individuals affected by the reduction in force but was told by McCain that, pursuant to Title 25 of the Mississippi Code, “a list of names associated with the RIF will not be released. What is allowable – departments, position titles, salary lines and position status – has been shared.”
McCain said that, through a process offered by the Mississippi Department of Employment Security, “the City of Hattiesburg filed for unemployment en masse for each employee affected by the reduction in force.”
“This was a helpful step in making sure all can access the maximum unemployment benefits allowable from the CARES Act,” she said.
McCain said that a city human resources employee has been designated as a primary resource to specifically help employees navigate the onboarding process for MDES and the use of its online tools.
Mayor Toby Barker added in the Friday email that, by making these moves now, the city can “make up ground for March and April.”
“COVID-19 has brought trials and challenges to our community, and one pain point is its impact on our local economy. We know there is a growing shortfall in sales tax revenue, and difficult decisions must be made,” said Barker. “There are still hard choices ahead, but we pledge to continue to be transparent to our employees and the public about our financial challenges and the avenues with which we can navigate these uncertain times.”